Juno Licenses BCMA from MSK, Eureka Therapeutics

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Juno Therapeutics has licensed rights from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) and Eureka Therapeutics for a novel, fully human binding domain targeting B-cell maturation antigen (BCMA), along with binding domains against two additional undisclosed multiple myeloma targets.

The value of the licensing agreement was not disclosed. Juno said yesterday it agreed to pay MSK and Eureka an upfront payment, additional payments tied to achieving clinical, regulatory, and commercial milestones, and royalties on net sales, all undisclosed.

Juno plans to use BCMA and the binding domains—developed through a 3-year partnership between MSK and Eureka—toward developing and commercializing chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) cell therapies for patients with multiple myeloma.

The BCMA CAR is expected to begin clinical trials in humans in the first half of 2017.

“We believe that a multipronged approach may be necessary to treat this disease, and we will pursue more than one target against myeloma,” Juno CSO Hy Levitsky, M.D., said in a statement. “The MSK and Eureka constructs are promising additions to our portfolio that will accelerate our efforts and provide additional opportunities to combat this disease.”

Juno disclosed the licensing agreement on the same day it released second-quarter results. The company finished Q2 with a net loss of $64.8 million compared to $66 million in the year-ago quarter, on revenue that more than doubled to $27.6 million from $12.5 in Q2 2015. The company’s cash, cash equivalents, and marketable securities stood at $1.11 billion as of June 30.

Juno also pushed back a year its anticipated launch date for its acute lymphoblastic leukemia candidate JCAR015, the CD19-directed CAR T-cell product for which a Phase II clinical trial was halted following the deaths of three patients earlier this year.

The JCAR015 deaths—all instances of cerebral edema in patients under age 25—led the FDA to briefly impose a partial clinical hold on the ROCKET trial, a hold that was lifted less than a week later after Juno agreed to modify the protocol to cyclophosphamide alone. Juno blamed those deaths on a change to its protocol that entailed preconditioning patients with a combination of cyclophosphamide and fludarabine.

Juno has acknowledged four patient deaths related to its CAR T-cell candidates; the fourth occurred during a trial of JCAR014, designed to treat patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) as well as relapsed or refractory (r/r) chronic lymphocytic leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). The company has said that the JCAR014 death may also reflect a higher dose of the treatment than is now used.

Eureka focuses on developing first-in-class T-cell immunotherapies for hematological malignancies and solid tumors. Its core technology platforms center around the discovery and engineering of fully human antibodies against intracellular targets via the major histocompatibility class I (MHC I) complex.

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